Bears and Body Language: 5 Key Strategies for Hospitality Trainers to Manage Fear in the Workplace

November 14, 2023 | 1762 Views

Bears and Body Language: 5 Key Strategies for Hospitality Trainers to Manage Fear in the Workplace

Ashley Helkenn

Director of Training | Bonchon Korean Fried Chicken

Question: What do these two things have in common: being chased by a bear and working in hospitality?

Answer: One can be terrifying, and the other is only super scary if you are the slowest runner in a group of friends. But both are all about FEAR.

But what IS fear? Most people think of fear as being scared. And technically, while that’s true, it’s incomplete. Fear is categorized by a series of reactions that happen in the body. There are a thousand things that happen in the body during the fear cycle, but here are the top five:

Reactions to Fear

These reactions in the body have evolved to prepare us for fight or flight when facing a threat like a bear attack.

  1. Pupils dilate
  2. Heartrate increases
  3. Breath quickens
  4. Blood moves to core of body
  5. Digestive system slows down

Causes of Fear at Work

When does fear show up in hospitality? Fear is triggered by uncertainty, confusion, or situations outside of our control. Some examples are:

In Operations

Outside of Operations

Managing Fear Responses for a Positive Work Environment

Leaders and managers can recognize fear responses in themselves, their teams, and their guests to get ahead of potential triggers.

1. Recognize Fear and Its Physical Signs

Fear often goes unnoticed, but its physical manifestations can be a powerful indicator. In order to read the body language of fear effectively, hospitality trainers need to acknowledge it for what it is. Trainers should educate themselves and their teams about these signs to better identify when fear is at play.

2. Control Your Breath

Fear is contagious, but so is calm. Hospitality trainers can start by focusing on themselves. When they sense fear, whether it's their own or someone else's, the first step is to stay calm. Controlling your breath is a powerful tool to help calm yourself and those around you. Slow, deep breaths can counteract the physical effects of fear and create a more composed environment.

3. Address Concerns with Calm

When trainers notice fear in their team members or guests, they should address it with composure and empathy. Encourage open communication and create a safe space for team members to express their concerns without judgment. By responding with understanding, trainers can help diffuse tense situations and reduce fear's impact. Focus on fostering trust and open communication to reduce uncertainty on your team.

4. Make Genuine Eye Contact

Eye contact can be a reassuring signal, especially in one-on-one interactions. When you make genuine eye contact, you convey a sense of presence and attentiveness. It tells team members or guests that their concerns are being heard and taken seriously, further contributing to a calming effect.

5. Foster a Positive Work Environment

Creating a positive work environment is essential for reducing fear in hospitality settings. Trainers can lead by example and set the tone for their teams. Encourage a culture of collaboration and support rather than one driven by fear. In high-stress situations, such as during busy shifts, remind team members to stay composed and focused on solving issues together. Discuss ideas for building calm among staff at upcoming manager meetings.


Fear is a natural response, but it doesn't have to control the hospitality workplace. Hospitality trainers can play a significant role in managing and mitigating fear to create a more positive and effective work environment for their teams and ultimately enhance the guest experience.

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Comments (1)

  1. Curt Archambault:
    Nov 15, 2023 at 12:05 PM

    Thanks for sharing your insights Ashley! The points you make are spot on and I know for me are rooted in lived experience. The tips are super helpful. Thanks so much for writing on this topic.